Monday, November 17, 2008

Me First

After having lived in Mexico City for a year and a half, there is one thing that I can no longer deny about the culture here in general: people tend to have a “me first” attitude. Now before anyone gets all crazy about how this is a generalization and that there are people in every culture throughout the world who behave similarly, I will admit that this is all true. I am generalizing from my own experience, and there are a number of Mexicans who are kind and considerate of others, and moreover there are a number of Americans who also fall into “me first” tendencies (anyone who has ever driven at rush hour in northern New Jersey will know what I mean). Still, some of the actions and attitudes here confound me because it often feels like inconsiderate behavior is the norm and accepted by society in general.

For instance, if you are a pedestrian trying to cross the street, it is your job to avoid being hit by any oncoming traffic. Even in crosswalks. Often there are no traffic lights or stop signs where they ought to be (i.e., in major intersections), but even where they do exist, cars come barreling down the road, turning corners at 35 miles per hour, and one often has to jump back to avoid being hit. Twice I narrowly escaped injury (once when crossing the street with Asha in her stroller, requiring me to push it out of the way to avoid her being hit by the car that screeched to a halt a mere 3 inches away from my knees; the other when I was 6 months pregnant and the driver literally drove into me face first to try and secure a parking spot, forcing me to jump back and nearly trip on the curb). Both times the pedestrian had the right of way, and both times the driver showed absolutely no remorse, and probably thought that I was in the wrong for daring to step onto the road at all. I would have thought these incidents were simply flukes, had our driver not reprimanded me time and again for slowing the car down in order to permit pedestrians to cross the street. Apparently it is very dangerous to slow down for pedestrians because we could be hit by cars behind us who are not accustomed to such courtesies (or what we in the US would consider the law).

A violation of traffic laws is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to courtesy. Inconsiderate behavior abounds when it comes to people thinking about their needs and either not realizing or, I think, more commonly not caring about how their needs and wants may affect others around them. For instance, a few months back, someone living in the apartment building next to ours had a roof party on a Saturday night – that started around 11:00pm and lasted until 4:00 a.m. This would have been fine, if they had not hired a DJ who blasted music from the roof – the sound of which rose up to our bedroom window - all night long. Given how commonplace such parties are here, and the fact that they often occur on weeknights as well as weekends, I suppose I should consider myself lucky that even though there was no one to whom we could complain – police are of no help in that there are no laws to prevent such inconsiderate behavior – I only had to deal with such a party once in 18 months of living here. A good friend of mine lives in a house whose next door neighbors have such parties twice a month – typically on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, and she has to resort to using a very loud air purifier in her baby’s room to partially drown out the noise.

Still, I figure all the construction above our heads that we have had to put up with for the past six months (8 hours a day, 6 days a week), is even worse than the semi-monthly party. Since apartments here are more like condos, where each unit is owned by an individual, there are no building landlords who are responsible to all the tenants/residents. This leaves the owner of the penthouse upstairs from us free from any legal obligation to prevent or reduce noise from the constant banging, drilling, sawing, and hammering, as well as falling dust, cracking walls or leaking ceilings. Sure they may have to ultimately pay the owner of apartment for any physical damage as a result of their construction, but they feel no duty or even consideration to those of us living here in reducing the aggravation such problems are causing in the interim. Nor do they feel any remorse (at least they did not exhibit any on the few occasions we spoke to them). Since there are no laws (at least not any that are being enforced) regarding nuisances, such as those we have in the U.S., there is little we as the aggrieved party can do. This ultimately perpetuates such behavior in this society.

It probably seems like these are extraordinary events, but in fact nearly everyone I know who has lived here has faced similar issues at some point. And if they have not had not been subjected to these exact ones, they have had people cut in front of them on lines at the bank, cafes, valet parking and even waiting for the bathroom at the gym (while obviously very pregnant and in dire need of the facilities).

This is not at all to say that all Mexicans are inconsiderate or bear the "me first" mindset. In fact, many of the ones we have met have been generous, courteous and kind. Unfortunately, they get overshadowed by those who exhibit such strong discourtesy to others – and I think it is because most of the time they face no consequences for their actions, so to the aggrieved party it feels like this is a society where such rudeness and selfishness is acceptable. And this gives all Mexicans a bad name.


Purvi said...

sounds like India :)

Rupal said...

This place is a duplicate of India in every way - good and bad. It is unreal.

kc said...

i think what you say is true for every city that has the density of population that mexico city has. I also find out out that Chilangos have put a really bad reputation for the rest of the country, and they are disliked in the rest of Mexico for the same reason.
Chill out... every country has their idiosyncrasies. The US has more than i can think, American also have a reputation to be self-centered and ignorant about the rest of the word. I am not generalizing, but i've seen a lot of those while living in the US.